Practitioners and the impact of recordings

Parallel session B2 (Chair: Ivan Hewett)

Practitioners and the impact of recordings

Listening to recordings: perspectives on practitioners’ habits

Dr Georgia Volioti, University of Surrey and Prof Aaron Williamon, Royal College of Music

Controversy persists over the influence of recordings upon performers’ listening practices, especially listening to recordings when forming, or informing, a musical interpretation and preparing for performance. In musicological criticism recordings are viewed as a negative influence on performers, because these allegedly prescribe stylistic norms that stifle the performer’s agency for originality and creativity. In educational and some psychological research, however, aural modelling, including listening (imitatively) to recordings, has been shown to play a role in formative musical training. The questions of how and why performers at different stages in their career, such as students versus professionals or university versus conservatoire musicians, listen to recordings has not been addressed on a large enough scale to overcome limitations of classroom-size investigations or musicological anecdotal evidence.

This paper presents results from a large survey which is a first attempt at charting empirically musicians’ listening habits. A structured questionnaire comprising 30 questions, each with multiple-choice answers and free-fall comment boxes, was distributed online to various UK conservatoires, university music departments and music organisations. Data from 209 completed questionnaires, representing a diverse population of musicians, are discussed herein. Findings from quantitative analyses (e.g. ANOVA, one-sample t-test) are supplemented with qualitative data from respondents’ insightful comments. Significant differences are observed in the preparatory stages at which different sub-groups listen to recordings, the performance features they focus their listening on, the factors affecting their choices and the level(s) of perceived influence.

We conclude by reflecting on what these findings mean for practitioners’ current attitudes to recordings, the implications for musical training and future directions for research.

Listening to María Barrientos: recordings and the shaping of the Spanish vocal repertoire

Dr Eva Moreda Rodriguez, University of Glasgow

María Barrientos (1883-1946) can be regarded as the first Spanish female classical singer to become a star both on stage and in recording. Looking at a variety of textual, visual and audio sources, my paper aims at discussing Barrientos’ career under the light of the introduction of recording technologies and the subsequent changes to listening practices in early twentieth-century Spain. Indeed, the development of a market for recorded music (both classical and traditional or popular) in Spain helped Barrientos consolidate her status as the archetypal ‘singing actress’ specializing in bel canto roles. At the same time, however, Barrientos was able to exert an influence on listening and composing practices in Spain through her choice to extend her repertoire (and recordings) to genres other than bel canto. In particular, I will discuss Barrientos’ recordings of Spanish contemporary art song repertoire; she was indeed the dedicatee of Enrique Granados’ Elegía eterna in 1914 and recorded it the following year, whereas Manuel de Falla chose her in 1930 to record his Siete canciones para canto y piano, accompanied by Falla himself. Through an examination of these recordings, I aim at suggesting new avenues for the study of Spanish musical nationalism by bringing in a thus far little explored focus on recording culture, listening practices and the role of female performers.

Early 78s: operatic celebrities, audiences and recording

Barbara Gentili, Royal Holloway, University of London

Early recordings from the pre-electrical era have something magic and unique: they preserve the fresh impression of live performances, unmediated by the adjustments of technology. Absence of consciousness for the existing gap between theatrical representation and singing in front of a phonograph, defects and even plain mistakes are testified on their matrixes. Emma Calvè could not be convinced that stamping her feet while recording Carmen’s Seguedilla was pointless for the listener, unable to see her acting; the negotiations which often preceded great singers’ involvement with the recording industry were exhausting, such as in the case of Nellie Melba. In particular, Melba’s reluctance to release her recorded material, her concerns regarding the incapability of the early reproduction process to deliver the quality of her voice, show how traumatic the advent of recording could have been for some interpreters of those days. On the other hand, Francesco Tamagno rejoiced with amazement on hearing his voice projected by the gramophone machine, and Enrico Caruso embraced with no hesitations the new enterprise, promoting and being promoted by this novelty.

In her elderly years, Emma Bellincioni complained about the essential lack of creativity of young interpreters, underling a noticeable difference between them and the performing practice of her era. Was this true and why had it happened? From audiences’ point of view, then, the listening experience irrevocably changed, as aural dimension of theaters and concert halls was to become increasingly substituted by sounding documents, the gramophone record.